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‘Scribblenauts’ leads in Nintendo DS gems

Both Apple and Sony are still playing catch-up with Nintendo, which has dominated the portable game market for decades.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Apple has turned the iPhone into a popular device for video games. Sony is about to introduce the PSP go, a slick new version of its handheld PlayStation Portable. But both companies are still playing catch-up with Nintendo, which has dominated the portable game market for decades.

The secret: a steady supply of terrific games. Here's a roundup of some of the best new releases for the Nintendo DS.

"Scribblenauts" (WB Games, $29.99)
This charming game from 5th Cell, the studio behind the nifty "Drawn to Life," boasts a thoroughly original gimmick. Instead of providing a limited set of tools to solve its puzzles, it encourages you to use your imagination. Think a ladder would be useful? Switch to the keyboard, type in "ladder" and — voila! — one appears on the screen.

The studio says there are tens of thousands of nouns in the game's dictionary, so you can conjure up anything from an aardvark to a zucchini (within the bounds of good taste). You'll want to keep using certain objects, like a rope or a helicopter, but "Scribblenauts" rewards you for trying different tools.

There are some frustrations: Some objects don't do what you might expect, and the main character can be hard to control. But with dozens of clever puzzles, and even more ways to solve them, there's a lot of value in this innovative package. Three stars out of four.

"Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box" (Nintendo, $34.99)
Puzzle maniacs will also adore this mystery, the second in a series from the Japanese studio Level 5. This time, the professor and his protege, Luke, race across a fantastical version of Europe in search of the title object, which is said to kill anyone who opens it.

While the story is solid, it's mainly a framework to present about 150 brainteasers, which are tied in somewhat loosely. There are exercises in logic, math, observation and object manipulation, and part of the fun is that you never know what you're going to get. Hardcore puzzle geeks will recognize many of the challenges, but it's still fun to encounter the old classics in new forms. Three stars.

"Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story" (Nintendo, $34.99)
Nintendo's beloved brothers have somehow become the stars of the most reliable role-playing series on the DS. In their third adventure together, the guys explore a brave new world: the innards of their old foe, Bowser.

It's essentially two adventures in one, with Bowser wreaking havoc across the Mushroom Kingdom while Mario and Luigi survive the creatures inside his body. The comedy is a refreshing change from the genre's usual seriousness, and the gameplay is varied and lively. Developer AlphaDream hits the sweet spot between accessibility and challenge, creating an RPG that anyone can enjoy. Three-and-a-half stars.